How to balance work, life and your other most important priorities.
As a full-time freelancer and self-admitted control freak, I can tell you first hand that the lines between my work life and personal life fall into a blur fairly easily. When I made the transition to writing as my full-time endeavor, I worried so much about how I would navigate my time spent working from home and how it would affect my overall sanity.
No matter what your career (or where you practice it), finding a balance between your professional and personal obligations can prove one of life’s greatest challenges. In this constantly bustling world in which we live, finding and maintaining a general sense of stability can be a necessary ingredient in the recipe for overall happiness and fulfillment.
Contrary to popular belief, and what self-help blogs, magazines and books might say about work/life balance, there is no distinct answer to what exactly it means. This sense of balance is in the eyes of the beholder, and every individual defines for him or herself what it means to feel steady on both fronts. Just as various career and personal paths speak to certain people, so will different techniques of managing said paths.
The term “balance” can be intimidating, suggesting that perfection can and should be achieved when in reality, it’s not possible. This adds pressure to an already overwhelmed existence, which is why I have dubbed this goal: The Work-Life Flexible Flow. For me, it’s about creating a comfortable routine that accommodates the ups and downs brought on by each day, and being ok with a more general sense of balance rather than specificity that might lead to disappointment.
The following tips provide insightful (but also flexible) starting points for implementing a work-life flow that best suits you.
Don’t live in a guilt cycle. Accept the fact that you won’t ever be able to “do it all” and know that you are not expected to do everything in a literal sense. I try to live by the mantra: It’s not about doing it all, it’s about doing the best you can. Replace overwhelmed thoughts about your current situation with a positive outlook on all that you have been capably blessed with. Use this positive thinking and appreciation to build a schedule that prioritizes what’s truly important and what you (and your family) require in order to stay sane.
Cut out things that don’t add value to your life. When it comes to distractions, I’m as guilty as the next person. Things like TV, social media, daydreaming and even reading can interfere with things that you have actually placed much higher on your priority list. Evaluate the time that you spend on these more trivial pursuits and make adjustments that might not necessarily eliminate them altogether, but better incorporate them into your daily life on a smaller scale.
Decide when to say no. Saying no can be difficult, but can also be so necessary to your sanity. Because I have such a flexible schedule, there are times when I find myself saying yes to many personal obligations and deadlines and then become so stressed about exactly how I’m going to cram it all into each day. Whether you are contemplating a new project at work or extracurricular activity at home, try your best to weigh the costs and benefits in order to determine if a new venture or commitment is particularly right for you.
Outsource tasks. My husband will tell you that one of our greatest relationship challenges is getting me to relinquish control in the name of my own sanity. If you are able, consider hiring help for more time-consuming tasks that you feel act as major roadblocks to your ability to balance life. Look into housekeeping, grocery delivery and even dry-cleaning services that deliver to your home or office. If you can’t hire, then ask for the help you need. I have made a small change to my daily/weekly routine and asked my husband for more help with grocery shopping and as a result, have noticed some drastic improvements in both of our end-of-day stress levels. I have slowly realized that accepting help in the smallest of ways can have a powerfully liberating impact.
Schedule time with loved ones. This one may seem obvious, but I think we all need a reminder that time spent with loved ones nourishes the soul. If you can take even small amounts of time to spend with those who know and love you (children, spouses, parents, friends, or all of the above), you give yourself the opportunity to reboot on a level that cannot be achieved alone. For some people this might mean that you have to schedule family time as diligently as you schedule your workday. Whether you do it mentally or tangibly on your calendar, treat these scheduled “meetings” as you would any other. I have always been a big fan of mandatory family dinnertime because everyone needs to eat, so it only makes sense to eat together and connect at the same time. You can also block out weekly and/or monthly events that allow for more flexibility with diverse schedules.
Schedule time for yourself. “Me time” is something that often gets placed very low on the priority list, and I completely understand why. The relationship that you have with yourself often gets neglected in lieu of family time, career time and even just trying to stay afloat amidst it all. But try to think of this relationship as you would any other. Taking time for yourself, even if it’s 10-minutes a day or an hour on the weekend, can help you recharge, recalibrate, gain perspective on what really makes you happy and how you can more effectively manage your time.
Embrace the chaos. No matter how regimented you are in your routine, things will not always go according to schedule or plan. The most important thing is not only that you give it your all on both fronts, but that you can be realistically flexible to accommodate all of life’s curve balls. The more you have to juggle, the more difficult it will be to feel like you have a grip on it all and keep your head above water. Be okay with making changes, adapting schedules and having an “off” day.
When people ask me how I balance my work and home life, my honest answer is, “I adapt.” I aim to establish an overall work-life environment that brings a holistic sense of fulfillment to my everyday routine. Remember, everyone needs a little something different in order to maintain this, and the idea of balance should be flexible to your needs as an individual, partner, parent, employee and coworker. Ultimately, this is YOUR life. Don’t worry so much about anyone else’s definition of a work-life balance. Develop your own flow and enjoy the fulfillment that it brings you.